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Antioxidant-Rich Diets & Diabetes Risk

by Ashley Jordan Ferira, PhD, RDN

Cellular oxidative stress, the balance between pro-oxidants and antioxidants, may contribute to the pathogenesis of chronic diseases.1 A nutrient-dense dietary pattern, particularly one containing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, confers antioxidant activity in the body. This is important because prior research has demonstrated that increasing the amount of antioxidants in the diet is associated with reductions in cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and all-cause mortality.1 However, data linking antioxidant intake and effects on type 2 diabetes have been relatively sparse. To address this, a study investigated the relationship between total dietary antioxidant capacity and type 2 diabetes (T2D) risk in a large, female prospective cohort.2

The French E3N-European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (E3N-EPIC) cohort, an exclusively female cohort, included 64,223 middle-aged women (average age of 52). During 15 years of follow-up, 1,751 women were diagnosed with T2D. Total antioxidant capacity, an index derived from dietary intake, was determined using the ferric ion-reducing antioxidant power (FRAC) method.2

Results showed, increased levels of total dietary antioxidant capacity were associated with a lower risk of developing T2D. Compared to women in the lowest FRAC quintile (corresponds to low dietary antioxidants), higher FRAC quintiles (higher antioxidant input from the diet) demonstrated:2

  • 26% reduced risk of developing T2D, for women in the 3rd FRAC quintile
  • 30% reduced risk of developing T2D, for women in the 4th FRAC quintile
  • 27% reduced risk of developing T2D, for women in the 5th (highest) FRAC quintile

These data show that low dietary antioxidant capacity may contribute to increased risk for developing T2D in middle-aged women. Future studies elucidating underlying mechanisms of this relationship would be valuable. 

Why is this Clinically Relevant?

  • Oxidative stress contributes to chronic disease etiology and progression
  • The antioxidant capacity of dietary intake has been associated with a lower risk of CVD, cancer, and all-cause mortality
  • Higher antioxidant dietary input may reduce the risk for T2D incidence
  • Practitioners should encourage and help patients implement a nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich diet including a variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains and legumes


Link to abstract


  1. Bastide N, Dartois L, Dyevre V, et al. Dietary antioxidant capacity and all-cause and cause-specific mortality in the E3N/EPIC cohort study. Eur J Nutr. 2017;56(3):1233-1243.
  2. Mancini FR, Affret A, Dow C, et al. Dietary antioxidant capacity and risk of type 2 diabetes in the large prospective E3N-EPIC cohort. Diabetologia. 2017;61(2):308-316.


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